Don't count him out

An injured Matt Henry wipes away a tear as he is hugged by mother Janet Henry after the 2007 Vanier...

An injured Matt Henry wipes away a tear as he is hugged by mother Janet Henry after the 2007 Vanier Cup. Henry broke his leg in the game but worked his way back to become a solid contributor. (Brian Donogh, Winnipeg Sun Files)

PAUL FRIESEN, Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Once again, his personal heartbreak was played out on national TV.

Once again, his mother was left in tears.

And once again, Matt Henry vows to come back.

The first time it happened, I admit, I counted him out. Watching his right leg do an imitation of a pretzel that day at the SkyDome had me convinced Henry wouldn’t be carrying a football again.

It was the 2007 Vanier Cup, a game won by his Manitoba Bisons.

But this national championship came with a stiff price, the remains of Henry’s shattered leg a gut-wrenching reminder of how dangerous the sport can be.

Over the next nine months, Henry reminded us how courageous its participants can be, too, as he came back, his leg now fortified by a steel rod, to join his team for the opening game of 2008.

A year and a half later, Henry, on the cusp of turning 23, thought he was also on the cusp of realizing his dream of playing professionally.

Sunday’s Canadian college draft was going to be the first step, a just reward for all the pain, the rehab, the sweat and tears.

“This is what I’ve been playing football for,” the product of Mississauga, Ont., explained. “I started when I was 10, 11 years old. This is what I want to do.”

For every story of the kid that got a chance, Sunday produced dozens like Henry’s.

It’s the college equivalent of waiting to be picked at the school yard, only your name never comes up.

“It was just anxiety: ‘Am I going to come up next?’ You’re obviously nervous and patiently waiting,” Henry said. “But as the rounds went on, I was getting down and getting down.”

This isn’t what he’d expected, not after getting personal calls from Saskatchewan and Edmonton before the draft. His coach, Brian Dobie, also heard from Winnipeg and Calgary.

Surely one of those four would want him.

Yet, his phone never rang.

“No clue (why),” Henry said. “It was upsetting at the end, but what more can I do? It’s not the end of the world, right?”

Tell that to his mother.

“She was pretty upset,” Henry admitted. “She was crying and all that. But you’ve just got to move on.”

Moving on means playing one final season with the Bisons — where he’s the school’s No. 2 career rusher — if he doesn’t land a CFL deal as a free agent.

A football factory in recent years, the Bisons saw just one player drafted Sunday, D-lineman Eddie Steele.

“He’s worked hard for everything he’s got, and he deserved a shot to be in the CFL,” Henry said.

Others, like Henry, will simply have to prove people wrong.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

“This is nothing compared to what happened to me in 2007,” Henry said. “If I can do that, I can do anything. The injury was something huge, and I came back from that and didn’t miss a beat.

“There’s more than one way to get to the CFL. I know what kind of person I am. I know I can overcome this, too.”

I have stopped betting against him.

AND THE WINNER IS: Every year, CFL GMs and personnel types crow about their draft picks, often to the point of ad nauseum.

Somehow, they got every single player they wanted.

This year’s winner of the “I Can’t Believe He Was Still Available” Award goes to Mike Benevides of the B.C. Lions, talking about the Lions’ selection of linebacker Joash Gesse, 17th overall.

“Gesse is a first-rounder we got in the third round,” Benevides, the Lions defensive co-ordinator and director of Canadian scouting, said. “We had Gesse evaluated higher than Cory Greenwood.”

Greenwood went third overall to Toronto.

And every team passed at least once on Gesse.

Go figure.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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